Three Guys’ First Thoughts: Nikon D600

Nikon D600 with AF-S Nikkor 28mm f/1.8G
The Nikon D600.

So here we are…
The Nikon D600. Months before the official launch, the rumours were already circulating that Nikon was going to release a budget FX camera. Well, budget compared to the D800 and D4. Then the leaked photos came, showing what looked like a D7000 with the FX branding clearly stamped on the front, and it pretty much sealed that rumour as fact. The official launch confirmed pretty much everything, but technical specs on paper only goes so far. What did we think of it?

Onwards!
YS: D7000 with a FX sensor. That’s what I have been saying ever since I saw the leaked images, and I have to say, I am still rather disappointed by the lack of a pro-level DX body, but that’s a tale for another time. NIKON Y U NO LISTEN TO US?

So it’s really that for me. No 10-pin remote, which makes using an L-bracket on such a camera an exercise in annoyance (see the last image in RRS’s product page), no centre select button that can be customised to a number of useful functions, no 9 frame bracketing, no pro-level AF, no AF-On button, and a freaking mode dial. I am sure I missed something, but right at the top of my head, these missing items on a camera that I consider to be my main camera? Combined, it’s an instant deal-killer for me. Oh, and the location of the video record button. That’s a bright idea, that.

CK: Yes, the 3-frame limit on bracketing/multi-exposure, lack of the centre select button which can be programmed to zoom in to a 100% view, lack of the 10-pin remote connector was also something I had to contend with when I upgraded to a D7000 from my old D200. Being possibly in the same “class” of camera as the D7000, the D600 “inherits” these “flaws” as well. Sad.

David: I have a different opinion – the market has been crying out for a full frame, small size, budget DSLR for eons and finally someone delivered – the D600 will herald in a new age of full frame DSLRs, much like the days of old, where a film SLR has a standard 24x36mm sized “sensor” or film – days when a 35mm is a 35mm and not a pseudo 52.5mm. Finally, the excuse of a full frame sensor not being able to fit into a smaller body has been debunked – I have always believed the technology and know-how is there all along. Yes I’m a full frame junkie. It doesn’t matter if this is not a pro-level body – there are enough heavy large sized DSLRs around.

YS: How is that standard? Seriously, that is legacy thinking at work. If medium format was as entrenched, we would have had a similarly silly argument, where we’d go “a 90mm is a 90mm, not some 125mm”.

Still, there is much to like about this camera. At the end of the day, it’s a D7000 with a FX sensor and the D4/D800’s improved video capability. For most people looking for whatever reason to get a FX camera, it is hard to argue against the cost. For US$2100, and possible Singapore street price of S$2700, I am sure it’s going to sell well. Especially in affluent Singapore. Must have the latest you know?

CK: Having used the Nikon D7000 for more than half a year, the D600 feels very familiar. Save for a few contour changes that Nikon has put in, the body pretty much looks the same. The shutter also sounds the same to me. Under the hood however, the D600 sports a full frame (FX) sensor. However, unlike the professional bodies like the D4, the view through the view finder looks about the same perceived size as my D7000.

David: I’ve used a D700 for close to four years so the controls on this D600 do baffle me a bit, having been used to a pro-level body. But this doesn’t temper my enthusiasm for the D600 – the only controls I needed are aperture, shutter speeds and ISO, and the D600 delivers the same user experience where these three controls are concerned. I’ll ignore the mode dial in normal use and just stick to manual mode. But I do understand that Nikon wants to reach out to a wider audience with this camera, specifically photography enthusiasts, and this is where I think the price of the body is a little too high.

YS: 0.7x magnification with a 50mm compared to a 0.63x on a D300. Strangely, the specification sheets list the D4, D800 and D600 with the same 0.7x spec. I wonder if we’re being lead astray purely based on the cost of the camera… It’s more expensive, so it must be BETTER. AMIRITE? Though probably other factors like eyepoint do count too.

CK: Listening to users’ feedback that the mode dial of the D7000 tends to get knocked out of position sometimes (though I never encountered that problem myself), Nikon has also put in a lock button on the mode dial of the D600. Nice touch there.

What did catch me by surprise is that Nikon has re-positioned the zoom in/ISO and zoom out/QUAL buttons on the D600 compared to the D7000. So when trying to set the ISO, I accidentally pressed the QUAL button instead. I am not sure why Nikon did that. D600 users who are used to the button layout of other Nikon cameras will need some time getting used to the repositioning.

David: It still feels like a Nikon to me!

YS: Gyah, don’t get me started. Using the D800 always made me stumble, because Nikon decided to change the buttons around. WTF, SRSLY. Nikon and other camera companies, don’t do that without a good reason, because making your loyal customers jump through hoops when a new camera is purchased just pisses them off.

CK: This is the first time Nikon has brought a full-frame DSLR into the hands of serious enthusiasts by making it more affordable. The D600 will probably set the precedence for a line of affordable full-frame DSLRs from the other makers as well. The question on fans of the DX-format pro bodies is probably “When will the D400 be released?”, and I do have a feeling that this might just not happen. It looks like Nikon is going to move these segment of users into the FX format, and leave the DX format for the less-advanced/basic users.

YS: Based on price points of the D600 and D300, the answer to the D400 question is: NEVER. I now cry myself to sleep. Every night.

David: Forget DX. DX has always been transitional to me. Nikon and other manufacturers can now relegate DX sized sensors to thier mirrorless and small camera offerings.

YS: SEZ YOU.

(Only) A Couple of Snapshots

Nikon D600 ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 snapshot
JPEG from RAW file, ISO 1600 and ISO 3200. Capture NX2 Noise Reduction was set to Better Quality 2012, Intensity 10, Sharpness 25.

YS: We did manage to get a few snapshots with our memory cards. The camera has essentially firmware version 1.0.xx, which means this is either production level, or close to it. Due to the rushed nature of the shots, these are not meant to be final review material (we don’t call these “First Looks” for nothing), but a sample of what lies ahead.

The D600 shows plenty of promise. At the fairly conservative settings used, there is some noise at both ISO 1600 and ISO 3200, but I think it’s pretty good. The noise pattern is a nice fine grain, and not the dreaded splotchy kind. I also find chroma noise being quite well-handled. It’s certainly promising.

Nikon D600 ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 snapshot with Topaz Denoise
JPEG from RAW files, ISO 1600 and ISO 3200. Capture NX2 Noise Reduction was set to Better Quality 2012, Intensity 10, Sharpness 25. Topaz Denoise using the RAW Light preset.

Then for those who really don’t want noise, a little post-processing with your favourite noise reduction software can help. In this case, there is a very slight reduction in detail, but the noise level goes down considerably. Please remember that viewing at this level of magnification equates to a 60” x 40” print at arm’s length!

CK: The noise does look decent, but if memory serves me right, I thought the output from the Fujifilm Finepix X100 looks a fair bit cleaner. I think even the older D700 looks a bit cleaner too. Looking at some high ISO files form my D7000, the noise pattern looks similar, a little less noisy too.

YS: Mmm, the Fujfilm X100. Fujifilm’s latest cameras are really quite good, and they’re using APS sensors! Really, this reminds me of the rubbish that is sprouted by Internet gearheads that 35mm sensors are always markedly superior – not always, and not necessarily by that large a margin. And looking at this reminds me of how far the Fujifilm is punching above its weight class.

CK: Yeah, that reminds me. That ridiculously-priced Leica M9 has a full-frame sensor too, but the high ISO performance leaves much to be desired. I believe even a Panasonic LX7 can easily beat that. So sensor size alone does not say much.

YS: Dohohohoho, David is going to have a word with you on that.

David: I love my Leica M9. Enuff said. But that’s not the point of this conversation here. The Nikon D600 is a landmark camera, much like the Nikon D700 was (full frame in a pro-level DSLR without the stupid grip).

I have an X100 and love it to bits too, but I’ll take a full frame sensor anytime. The cropped sensor of the X100 does not bother me because the lens is fixed, and hence, to me, it offers a 35mm field of view and that’s it. I would never use a Nikon DX body because which lens will give me a 35mm equivalent field of view with a maximum aperture of F2 or greater?  Which lenses will give me a 28mm equivalent field of view with a f1.8 aperture? Nikon has no lenses, DX or not in those range. FX to me is all about being able to choose the right lens with the right focal length. With FX, we can resurrect even old faithfuls like the 28mm f2.8, or the old AFD 35mm f2.

YS: This really isn’t the format’s fault, but more of support. I have been waiting for that DX 12mm f/2.8 FOREVER now. And I doubt you want to use the older lenses too. Even the 35mm f/2 is beaten by a SAMSUNG 30mm f/2. That’s right. SAMSUNG.

What We Think

YS: To conclude, Nikon should be able to sell these cameras as fast as they can make them. The final thing that will determine the camera’s popularity is price, and given Singapore’s habit of inflating the published retail prices, the S$3249 price seems about right. I expect to see it at around S$2700 to S$2800 once the initial rush is over, and the shops here make a profit from the first wave of people who have more money than sense. In US, the SRP is US$2100, almost US$1000 cheaper than the D800. Nikon seems confident that they will be able to sell them without supply issues come September 18th, making it the first time that Nikon’s sold a camera at this level with this kind of worldwide rollout. As for myself, I will be giving this camera a pass. Now, Nikon, about that D400…

CK: Personally, as the two lenses which I use the most – the Nikkor AF-S 12-24mm f/4G and AF-S 17-55mm f/2.8G – are both DX lenses, changing to a FX body will mean that I will need to replace them with their FX equivalents. And that will be quite an expense. Sure, I can still use them in the D600 in the DX-crop mode, but I am losing out on the 24 megapixel sensor, turning it into a 10.5 megapixel camera, and my current D7000 can already deliver 16 megapixels in the DX format. Therefore as of now, I don’t think I’ll upgrade.

David: I love everything about it except the price. It should be priced about $2500 or lower. At that price point, it makes more sense. It’s current SRP is rather near the street price of a D800!

YS: What kind of a carrothead buys a camera at the Singapore SRP? No wait, don’t answer that.

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